Friday, March 25, 2011

Netherlands (Part 1)

I excused myself from my afternoon Pathology classes to pack. I still had a big exam the other night, so I didn't know that I lacked one white undershirt, which I had to buy at the nearest mall. I still had a few hours, but I was all over the place: I didn't want to forget anything, my travel documents, especially. The flight was in the evening: I would take Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, and from there, go on to my connecting flight to Amsterdam. I was to travel alone.

Thankfully, my brother, Ralph, came over to help me arrange my things. He took me to the airport and, during the cab ride, gave me a how-to-tie-your-neck-tie demo. It was a hot, sunny afternoon.


While checking in my luggage, the two questions I often got asked were: "Are you travelling alone?" and "How old are you?" It dawned on me again that I still look young for my age, and if people mistake me for a sixth grader in the Philippines, they'd probably call me a toddler in Europe. I am 23, and I am well past my puberty.

The great thing about travelling alone—aside from the risk of getting kidnapped or lost—is the opportunity to observe things more closely, free from the incessant chatter of friends nearby. For instance, I was in the long queue when I noticed this man who looked like the talk show host, Boy Abunda. Tell me that isn't him.

Boy Abunda?

In the waiting area, I sat next to a woman—short-haired, wearing long, baggy pants, with crooked teeth, and a nervous smile. It was going to be her first time abroad: she was to work in Saudi Arabia as a caregiver, and she asked me for tips on where to have her currency exchanged. I didn't see her again.

We boarded the plane at 8 pm—just right on time. Beside me was a man in his late forties. He looked like a businessman.

"Are you going on a business trip?" I asked.

"Yes, in Guinea—that's in West Africa," he said. "How about you?" He had a warm smile.

I told him I was attending a conference to present a research study, that I was a medical student, and that I was taking some time off from my classes.

Arnel—that's his name—is working for a mining company, harvesting gold or diamonds. He spends four weeks abroad and returns in the country for the next two to be with his family. He's used to all the travelling. He told me about his college days, his previous work in Indonesia, among other things.

During the flight, I was alternating between watching the movies in the plane and familiarizing myself with my speech. I felt I had all the time in the world.

Viewing pleasure Script

I eventually reached Hong Kong International Airport, and what a stark contrast it was to NAIA. The lines were more efficient, the stores were much more glamorous, and the guards all wore masks, as if an H1N1 epidemic was on its way. This was around 10 pm, and people were getting sleepy.

I'm in Hong Kong Sleepy


I waited for two hours to board the next plane. I saw a couple of Filipinos there, too, most of them working as seamen.


The flight was going to be 11 hours long. Thankfully, the food served was delicious enough to keep me happy, even if I was in economy.

 Yum.  Hmm.

Just before we landed, I talked to an old widow and asked her about the must-go places in the Netherlands. In a piece of paper, she wrote, "Rotterdam," and "Volendam." "Those places have a lot of history—in Volendam, they even wear these nice costumes," she said. I learned that she is living alone. She spent a month in Bali, and that her children are now in New York and Paris.

"Now you're travelling all over the world—that's a good thing," I told her.

Hours later, I saw my first glimpse of the Schipol International Airport in Amsterdam. I was in Europe! It was still dark, so I couldn't really see much.

First view: Amsterdam

Runway Netherlands!

I got past immigration in a breeze.

When I asked around where I could buy the next train ticket to Leiden, I was referred to this booth. The lady patiently answered my questions.

Busy airport Train ride

Schipol International Airport


I found my train after 10 minutes. The place was quiet, and the sheer lack of people made me think of  the otherwise busy MRTs and LRTs in Manila.

Alone 1 Alone 2

Throughout the 30 minute train ride, I sat next to the window. The scenery rushed past me like scenes from European movies. The day was bleak, and it looked like it was about to rain.

Outsider Along a train station


"Is this the stop to Leiden?" I asked the man seated next to me. He must have been a foreign student.

"No, two more stops. It's another 15 minutes," he said, smiling.

The train did stop. Thankfully I traveled lightly, so it was easy strolling my luggage around. Only after I had gone out of the train did I realize that I was in Europe. It was almost surreal: the cold, the mist forming as I exhaled, the steady rush of tall, blonde haired people. Praise God for the safe trip!



I found the Leiden University Medical Center where the conference was to be held, had myself registered, and proceeded to the Tulip Inn Hotel where I would be staying, some 10 minutes away.


I didn't find anybody else in Room 370, but I knew I was going to sleep comfortably there.

Hotel room Bed

I changed clothes and prepared for the Leiden canal and museum tour which would start at 10:30 am. I ate a breakfast of bread, yogurt, cereals, and lots of juices—a prelude to one of the most memorable days I would experience in my life.

Praise God, I'm safe!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

so excited for part 2 kuya! :D -mike

Fri Mar 25, 05:46:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVES IT! More! It probably would have been more fun if our entire group was there to support and accompany you (may bonus na "KAKAK!" cheer ni Dalvie with walrus-style claps)

congratulations again (sa conference, going on a trip alone, and for being mapaglusta sa pera hahaha) :D - Denden Gree

Fri Mar 25, 07:53:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

parang documentary lang! can't wait for parts 2, 3,4... hehehe - jgg

Sat Mar 26, 12:41:00 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Kuya John said...

daw mahibi ko ba!

Sat Mar 26, 08:07:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

coolness! -pv

Sun Mar 27, 02:51:00 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous keth ivory said...

that was so bitin!!! hahaha
you write so well, and im so overwhelmed by the sheer fun of your experience, i almost cried while reading your stuff.
okay, attack me with parts 2-10. soon!

hope to see you soon too. haha. :)

Sun Mar 27, 01:41:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

inspiring kuia lance.. -jaja

Tue Mar 29, 05:59:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

more more more more!!! :D

Wed Mar 30, 03:00:00 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we become little tots when we travel and realize that the whole world is a huge,huge playground...and you become happy-tired
--ms mervz

Sat Apr 23, 08:58:00 PM GMT+8  

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